Pamela Buxton takes a look at new sports stadia that, while often instigated for football and its fans, have choices, of bars, restaurants, lounges and alternative sports facilities, and use cutting-edge design to offer so much more
When National Geographic Magazine challenged Populous this year to come up with ideas for the stadium of the future, the sports design specialist didn’t hold back. Its vision was for a highly versatile, multi-use, ecovillage of sport and recreation, complete with LED-lit pitches that change textures and materials for different sports, adjustable seating configuration, spectator-carrying drones, holographic crowd information, with the whole thing driven by a self-sufficient ecosystem sustained by solar and wind energy, rainwater harvesting, and rooftop garden produce. What a change from the turnstile crush, grim loos, and dodgy half-time burger experience that many of us remember from not so long ago.
But Populous’ vision is rather more than fanciful science fiction. And while its design for Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium (see White Hart Lane case study) may not have the passenger drones, it does embody the spirit of this new thinking. The future, it turns out, is rather nearer than we imagine.
Stadia have been increasing in complexity for some time. No longer purely sporting/event venues, they have in recent decades become truly mixed-use, typically with hotel and conference accommodation. But with the increased focus on commercially important hospitality facilities, how can clubs enhance their spectator hospitality offer (see Anfield case study) while ensuring that the core sport-viewing experience remains authentic? Get it wrong, and they risk losing their traditional fan base.
With new stadia requiring tremendous investment, it’s important to leverage this infrastructure for the best possible outcome beyond the sporting facilities.
‘It’s necessary for these large structures to work really hard to be much more integrated into the urban environment and community,’ says Populous’ EMEA managing director Christopher Lee, adding that this might mean incorporating space for local events as well as other uses, such as galleries, retail, business, hospitality and even health facilities, to ensure all-week-long activity. Stadia that only come alive during matches are no longer viable.
Photo Credit: Adrian Lambert
‘Once we’ve solved the dimensions of the stadium bowls, these are commercial vehicles,’ says Andy Simons, director of sports design specialist KSS, which recently completed the refurbishment of Anfield’s North Stand and the One Twenty members’ club at Wembley Stadium in London. ‘New stadia are constantly seeking ways to maximise revenue,’ he says.
Investment in stadium hospitality is a key trend. KSS estimates that as recently as five or six ago, clubs would aim for 10 per cent of the stadium accommodation to be for hospitality, but now the figure is nearer 20 per cent. This rise generally however goes hand-in-hand with an increase in stadium size from 40,000 to 60,000 seats approximately, ensuring that the number of spectator seats doesn’t fall despite the increase in hospitality areas.
Typically, he says, new stadia require a flexible mix of hospitality that can be utilised for both match and non-match events such as meetings, weddings and conferences, ranging from boxes with a capacity to hold 100 people to lounges that can accommodate 200-500 people. Also, there is more emphasis on the inclusion of bespoke, branded ‘partner’ lounges.
According to KSS head of interior design Debbie Brant, the trend is to provide not just a range of different hospitality offers around the stadium but to accommodate more choice within each offer – presenting quite a challenge for the caterers.
Photo Credit: Adrian Lambert
‘The trend now is moving away from fine dining. That 10 per cent [or more hospitality] is now a spectrum of offers from fine-dining to street food and light-bites. But we’re finding that within one offer, people want choice. They want a members’ club experience.’
At KSS’s One Twenty Wembley – billed as the most exclusive offering in Wembley stadium’s history – members get choice and unprecedented space for their £10,800 annual fee. This provides a variety of areas such as lounge, bar and restaurant, and of food and beverage offers, with twice as much space per person as the norm according to Simons, who expects the Club to set a new benchmark in hospitality standards. ‘It’s very space-hungry… premium offers come down to how much space you can give,’ he says.
Generally, there is now a move away from an emphasis on fine dining towards a more informal and varied hospitality experience.
Stadiologist Paul Fletcher, a former football player and ex-commercial director of Wembley National Stadium who has been involved in the redevelopment of several UK football grounds, identified the growth of a new breed of affluent fan who wants a middle ground between the more formal corporate offer and the standard ticket experience.
The One Twenty Lounge at Wembley
‘They’re the ones making the noise and letting off steam,’ [during the game] he says, adding that at half time, however, they want to migrate to premium facilities and lounges.
At Liverpool’s Anfield stadium, the KSS designed Carlsberg Dugout lounge spans the length of the main stand and offers street-food style catering and breakout areas for more than 2,000 fans who have paid extra for the enhanced experience.
Research has to be carried out to make sure that the offer will fit the market. Designers need to achieve a quality hospitality experience while reflecting the club ethos, and in some cases that of the sponsor too.
‘The era of the “brand gun” around the space with crests on every seat has gone. But there still needs to be a sense of the club in all the spaces. We try to understand the DNA of the brand and tailor that to all of the offers,’ says Brant.
Commercial opportunities can also be maximised by making the stadia suitable for multiple sporting uses. Creating a flexible-use venue that doesn’t compromise on the needs of the individual sports involved has been something of the holy grail of stadium design – anyone who’s experienced a football match with a running track between pitch and the stand will attest to how this dual-sport arrangement kills the atmosphere for spectators. Then there’s the issue of the pitch surface – what’s right for UK football, for example, is wrong for American football.
Designed by Zaha Hadid Associates, the stadium’s principal building material will be timber. All renders by VA
Advances in pitch technology have meant that this aspiration for flexibility of use is now a reality, with Tottenham’s new stadium using retractable pitch technology to enable a choice of playing surfaces. Retractable roofs, such as that at Wimbledon’s Centre Court – and soon to be introduced over No 1 Court – have already given stadium operators protection against rain-stopped play.
Paul Fletcher’s own stadium of the future concept has a different approach to multi-use through the incorporation of his patented StadiArena concept. This converts one stand into a covered arena space in just eight minutes when required, shutting the area off from the rest of the stadium bowl, but utilising the existing spectator facilities. He also proposes raising the pitch up to provide a commercially viable sub-pitch area, which could be used for other sports such as squash, car parking, or as a superstore, for example.
The planned stadium is planned to be either carbon neutral or carbon negative. All renders by VA
Populous’ future stadium vision suggests that the use of LED pitches could give greater scope for changing the textures and markings of a static surface. Another, even more out there, idea is for transparent pitches with hospitality areas underneath. The vision also includes other uses for LED to enhance the spectator experience such as its incorporation into smart clothing that responds to the action or their favourite players’ heartbeat. After all, the match experience has to compete with such a high level of home-screen technology that the real thing has to offer rather than just simply viewing the match to justify the cost and effort of attending the match in person.
Future stadium technology will offer rather more than great wi-fi and USB ports in the seats. Holographic technology could be used to provide data during the game not on a fixed big screen but projected above players, and there is even the notion – untested as yet – of real games being recreated in other stadia using hologram players, courtesy of an array of cameras and microphones to simulate the real match experience.
The Eco park Stadium near Stroud, Gloucestershire, was designed by Zaha Hadid Associates to respond sensitively to its landscape
Tottenham’s White Hart Lane isn’t the only major new stadium planned for the capital. Further south, Chelsea Football Club has commissioned Swiss practice Herzog & de Meuron to design a £600m, 60,000-seater stadium at Stamford Bridge. Both new developments promise to raise the bar for UK stadium design.
Fletcher, however, feels that most football fans aren’t that bothered about award winning stadium architecture.
‘I don’t think football spectators want to see a football stadium that looks like a Christmas cake…They honestly don’t care as long as it’s designed well inside, has quality toilets, and everyone feels safe and is close to the action,’ he says.
But stadia design is sure to keep evolving in the quest for both enhanced spectator experience and commercial gain. And just as the retractable pitch is now a reality, maybe some of the more fanciful futuristic ideas – transparent pitches, holographic players, spectator drones – will be with us before we know it.
Case Study: White Hart Lane
Client: Tottenham Hotspur Football Club
Populous has high expectations for its new stadium at White Hart Lane, which is currently under construction and due to open in August 2018.
‘I think it’ll be the greatest experience of any stadium in the world,’ says Populous’ EMEA managing director Christopher Lee.
As well as the core football facilities, this new sport, leisure and entertainment complex will incorporate a banqueting and conference hall, hotel, and a large new public square to the south equivalent in size to Trafalgar Square. The broader stadium masterplan includes the Tottenham Experience retail and museum facility, a Sky Walk to the roof of the stadium, a community health centre, an extreme sports centre, and 579 residential units.
The stadium will be the first in the world to be truly multi-use, says Lee, courtesy of its cutting-edge, retractable pitch technology. The 61,559-seater stadium will feature a 1.5m-deep grass pitch for its core football use. But this can be slid away underneath the stand and adjacent plaza to reveal a second pitch – this time of artificial turf – suitable for American football.
Atmosphere and a great spectator experience full of choice is the priority.
The pitch is as close (5m) to the fans as safely possible. The architects hope that the stadium’s intense atmosphere will offer a true sense of connection for the spectators, helped by the ‘home’ south stand’s configuration as one complete single tier of 17,500 seats. ‘This creates a wall of fans, a real atmosphere for both players and for those sitting in it,’ says Lee.
Populous is working with acousticians to ensure the optimum reverberation conditions so that fans’ singing lasts longer, with the south stand planned as the sound ‘engine’ of the stadium. ‘Atmosphere is a careful mix of art and science. We’re working with fantastic acousticians,’ says Lee.
The Tunnel Club at White Hart Lane offers a close-up view of players entering and leaving the pitch. Photo Credit: Populous
‘Once you get an amazing atmosphere, the players play better.’ A core part of the brief was enhancing spectator experience.
Together with Jump Studios, Populous aimed to redefine this hospitality experience – the club appreciates that fans don’t want the same experience every time, but want to choose from a wide variety of options, whether its craft beer brewed on site, coffee shops, street food or fine dining.
While all tastes and pockets will be catered for, the design team is mindful of striking the right balance between offering a range of quality hospitality experiences without becoming overly precious. ‘How do you create a better quality experience without becoming Selfridges Food Hall? We’re constantly trying to check ourselves and ask if we’re creating an authentic experience,’ says Lee.
Features at the new stadium will include the UK’s first purpose-built glass-walled Tunnel Club, which will allow lounge guests a behind-the-scenes view of the players’ tunnel.
Other clubs around the stadium include the H Club, which will offer fine dining and tables hosted by club legends, and additional Upper and Lower East and West Clubs, with formal and brasserie dining and added attractions such as, for example, mixology masterclasses. High up, the Sky Lounge will give panoramic views of what’s going on inside and outside the stadium.
The stadium development is part of a wider regeneration in northern Tottenham. Lee gives much credit to client Daniel Levy, chairman of Tottenham Hotspur, for constantly challenging the design team throughout the lengthy design process.
‘He’s given us huge scope. It will be the greatest stadium that we’ve produced,’ says Lee.
Case Study: Anfield Main Stand
Client: Liverpool Football Club
KSS has rebuilt Liverpool Football Club’s Main Stand at Anfield. It has increased in size from 12,200 seats to more than 20,500, making it one of the largest single stands in the country and the first major expansion to Anfield in more than 20 years.
As well as providing the expanded and improved accommodation, the challenge for KSS was how to integrate the essence of the club into the design of the new space, and in particular the inner concourses on levels 2 and 6.
‘Anfield is about a mystique, a nostalgia and passion from the fans. We did a lot of work to create a space with a sense of Liverpool,’ says KSS director Andy Simons.
At the entrance, a prominent ceiling raft of reclaimed timbers is used to draw the eye in towards the many concessions inside. As fans enter, they cross a graphic of a brass band inset in the floor that marks the old boundary line of the ground, in a reference to the long history of the club, with supersized graphics on the wall explaining its significance alongside large-scale representations of the club crest.
This heritage is reinforced inside on the level 2 concourse. Here, below the stand rakers, KSS has created a heritage waiting area using some of the original 1906 seating. These seats are positioned in front of a red and white backdrop created from old seat backs that evoke to the mind a sea of scarfs held aloft. Above this, ribbed metal roofing from the old main stand was salvaged as the base for the legend ‘Rows and Rows of Crimson Flags’. TV screens are fitted throughout the large social areas to show match-day content before and after the matches.
Liverpool Football Club’s Main Stand at Anfield. Photo Credit: Adrian Lambert
KSS has provided a variety of other spaces within the concourse, including standing bar areas and two viewing areas. Here, supporters can look out over two large, full-height windows – one looking out over Anfield, the other over the city, with timber-effect herringbone flooring to signal a change in pace from the resin-on-concrete main concourse.
‘You don’t normally get breakout areas in stadia. We wanted to create a different pace so there are areas to dwell in with great views. They’re lovely spaces to be in,’ says Simons, adding that KSS wanted the standard of accommodation to encourage people to arrive early and linger.
KSS also delivered eight other lounges and clubs throughout the site including the Carlsberg Dugout, with a capacity for 2,000, spanning the length of the main stand and with three long bars, food stalls, table football, and comfortable seating.
Work is due to begin early next year on a new training centre and academy at Kirby.
Case Study: Eco Park Stadium, Gloucestershire
Client: Forest Green Rovers
Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects
ZHA won a design competition for this relatively small (5,000-seater) yet ambitious project, to be home of League Two’s Forest Green Rovers. It will, says the practice, be the first all-timber football stadium, with almost every element made of sustainably sourced timber.
The challenge for the architects was creating a stadium that was iconic, while at the same time responds sensitively to its landscape setting. The client’s aspiration was also for the stadium to be as green as possible, driving the choice of a CLT structure with minimum embodied energy. This light option also has the benefit of reducing the amount of foundations required. ‘We wanted to keep the envelope and cladding fairly transparent so that it is not a massive solid block in the landscape,’ says Sara Klomps, ZHA associate director.
All renders by VA
The sinuous design creates a continuous bowl to encourage a good match-day atmosphere in the stadium.
The flowing contours rise up at the east and west stands in response to the surrounding landscape. The roof’s transparent membrane contributes to the growth of the organic pitch by letting in light as well as helping to reduce the impact of the stadium in distant views.
A small anaerobic energy centre is planned on site to generate energy from organic waste and grass clippings. The hope is that the new stadium will be carbon natural or carbon negative. By incorporating academy and other community multi-sport facilities, the aim is that the stadium can contribute to the town all-year round.
All renders by VA
The architects have designed the stadium to allow capacity to be increased from 5,000 to 10,000 – if required in the future without major construction works.
The project is expected to apply for planning permission next year.